Ifirst became politically aware in 1927. It was the year of the Schattendorf murder trials in Vienna—trials of proto-Nazis who had killed an invalid and an apprentice on their way to take part in a Socialist demonstration. The judge, who was much more in sympathy with the murderers than with the victims, had acquitted them on two occasions and now the case was coming up in the Palace of Justice, the highest instance. For their part, the workers in Vienna said: ‘If they acquit them again there will be trouble’, and they were acquitted again and next day there was a big demonstration and the police intervened. There were fights between police and demonstrators. Two or three policemen had their uniforms taken off them and were sent away in their underpants—it was summer. And then the fighting became serious. One policeman and 86 workers were killed and the Palace of Justice went up in smoke. This was called in Vienna blutiger Freitag—bloody Friday—and I happened to be in town with my mother. The streets were closed and we couldn’t get away, so I saw through the shop-window of acquaintances where we had taken refuge a number of stretchers with dead and wounded. One also heard some shooting and, I think, saw some smoke though we didn’t know what was burning at the time. I was tremendously excited by all this and of course listened to the grown-ups speaking about the Nazis who had killed these people and so on. Then Karl Kraus made a poster and put it on the bill-boards addressed to the Viennese Chief of Police, Herr Schober: ‘Ich fördere Sie auf abzutreten’—‘I ask you to stand down’ or literally ‘I call you up (auf) to stand down (ab)’ and this ‘auf’ and ‘ab’ impressed me very much, as it were, graphically; I’d only shortly before learnt to read. At Christmas when I had to recite a poem in the school-hall, which we shared with two other schools, I heard someone say ‘Dr Schober is among the guests’. So I stepped forward and said: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, I can’t recite my Christmas poem because I have just heard that Dr Schober is among the guests. I was there on Bloody Friday and saw the stretchers with the dead and wounded and can’t recite the poem in front of him.’ So Schober jumped up and, followed by his entourage, left and banged the door. My teacher, who was a left-wing Social Democrat, embraced me but my father said: ‘I won’t have this. The boy is swimming about in the wake of Communism!’ I didn’t know what that meant. We had the luxury edition of Meyer’s Konversationslexikon but only the first six volumes, which didn’t have Geschlechtsorgane (sexual organs) far less Kommunismus. So I had to wait till we went to an aunt of mine, who didn’t have the luxury-edition but at least had all the volumes. There I looked up ‘Communism’ and then, thanks to the frequent references: socialism, Marx, Engels, socialist legislation etc. So I owed the basis of my political education to my father and Meyer’s Konversationslexikon.

During the elections before Dolfuss came to power there had been antiSemitic propaganda—a baby with a very bent Jewish nose reading Marx and the Bible in its cradle and so on. I was thirteen in 1934. I was speaker for my form and the democratic institution of ‘the speaker’ was ruled out just like coeducation. First Communists were prohibited and then the Social Democrats published a leaflet which said: ‘There is a rumour that we wish to attack democracy. The truth is that the workers fight nobody, attack nobody, but when the old laws are broken and freedom is in danger then the workers will take up arms.’ I thought there would be fighting, and there was a few days later when Dolfuss shelled the Viennese workers’ settlements.

Dolfuss paved the way for the Nazis—also among the youngsters—because the official line was ‘Austria is the second German state; we must march separately but strike together.’ Then why not go straight for ein Reich, ein Führer? When the Nazis came my parents were arrested and I tried to form a group among my Jewish school-fellows to collect books from frightened Jewish friends who were burning their Marxist and antiNazi literature. We collected such books and brought them to workers’ flats and to municipal housing where there were Socialists and Communists who would look after them for a couple of years. We also made mistakes, like bringing Trotsky on the 1905 revolution to a Communist, who probably didn’t like it very much. I was firmly resolved to do something against the Nazis. What we did was extremely clumsy and childish. It came from a good feeling of not just sitting down.

Many of my schoolfellows were Zionists and when the Nazis came I admired the right-wing Zionist group, the Thal, because the Hitler Youth always wanted to attack them but they fought back cleverly. But I didn’t agree with them. I thought the attitude of the Zionists to the Arabs or to the Palestinians was absolutely hopeless. I was never attracted by that.

My father was killed by the Nazis—not for political reasons but because my mother tried to ensure that money belonging to her boy-friend’s cousin was smuggled out of the country. She and my father were arrested and my father was kicked to death.

At first I didn’t do anything politically. I had generally left-wing sympathies. I tried to find out who was right—Stalinists or Trotskyists. I had read Stalin’s Short History of the Communist Party and came to the conclusion that it was faking history, so I tended to the Trotskyists. There was a Trotskyist circle in West End Lane, but I found that when there were more than two or three people together they used to split up. I thought this was stupid because the Communists did very effective work among the young refugees. I thought that obviously what they said about the Trotskyists was lies, but that this was a childhood disorder of many revolutionary movements, a terrible over-simplification, so if I joined them I could work against it. And I did try to work against it.

I left the cp in 1943 when a boy whom I had recruited—my best friend—committed suicide because he had the same doubts that I had, as I discovered from a poem in his pocket when I had to identify his corpse. I later found more traces in his writings. I never got over that really. A founding member of the Austrian Communist Party was chucked out at this time. The Party was wrong without question. So I asked for an assessment of my work and when that was very positive I said: ‘Right, now I am leaving, I’ve had enough.’ Then they announced that I must be treated in a very friendly way because I could be very useful as a poet but that I mustn’t be told secrets any more because I had gone mad.